by Hollis Hiscock
They spring up almost anywhere.
Wherever a slice of arable land exists, people visualize the harvest and set about tilling, sowing, watering, weeding and nurturing their gardens, motivated by veggie cornucopias dancing in their heads.
They occupy properties near churches, libraries, schools, on roof tops and even in ditches.
The explosion of church-community gardens countrywide seems to be heralding the resurrection of bygone days, when the land not only produced food for the body but also built community to feed the soul.
Today these gardens become symbols, not only for the food produced, but also for the relationships fostered—both emotional and spiritual.
The original church-community garden probably first appeared shortly after creation, long before either word came into vogue. In the earlier of the two Genesis stories describing the making of the universe we read, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit” (1:11-12). And it was so. God’s assessment, “It’s very good.”
The tradition continued throughout history as people followed God’s example.
Those dedicated to the monastic lifestyle are credited with developing the raised-bed garden, which helped overcome meagre landscapes, soil deficiencies and allowed easier tending. The vegetables supplemented their food supplies—most were vegetarian— and herbs helped in medicinal healing. Their locations were also significant, situated so the sick and frail could see, be inspired and comforted by the canopy of multi-coloured fruits and vegetables.
Helping people in need, especially during turbulent times, is the most common motivation for faith based community gardens, according to Christine Sine.
In her online article “Creating a Faith Based Community Garden,” written for Sustainable Traditions, she also included concern for young people, developing healthy eating habits, healing the earth and providing green space for people to enjoy.
“Perhaps one reason God created human beings to tend the garden is because God knew that it is in the midst of a garden that we connect most intimately to the character and ways of our Creator.”
Greening Niagara echoes Christine’s sentiments in its mission statement, “We believe God calls all of us, through our lives and ministries, to be active in the care of creation. As Anglicans, we have long expressed a concern for creation that is consistent with the fifth mark of mission of the Anglican Communion: ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the earth.’”
After eight years Greening Niagara has been very successful in achieving its goals.
In the Niagara Anglican (May 2015), Mac Armstrong affirmed Christians as stewards of creation and advocated owning your own garden to offset costs, lower carbon footprints and have fun. He wrote that parish gardens “are also worth the effort since it can be a great fellowship activity to tend a parish garden. The yield can either go into dinners or services the parish may host or partake in, be it food bank donations or catering.”
Midafternoon, I am standing in a church-community garden taking photographs.
A stranger approaches.
We exchange greetings and converse about the garden —bumper crop of green vegetables, bad year for tomatoes, advantages of the raised beds and cooperative teamwork.
I mention vegetables are free for the taking, but not many people harvest the crops.
He asks the name of an odd shaped species, enlightens me which veggies are on his naughty list and wonders why people don’t take pick the harvest.
Suddenly we drift apart, heading into our respective worlds, and may never encounter each other again. However, for several moments the church-community garden brought us together—the harvest of two human beings intersecting and interacting.
Editor Hollis Hiscock encourages your feedback.